First Mode, Anglo American wrap up $1.5B transaction for zero-emission mining

A two-megawatt hydrogen-fueled powerplant, designed and built by First Mode in Seattle, is installed in this Anglo American haul truck at their platinum mine in Mogalakwena, South Africa, creating the world’s largest zero-emission vehicle. (First Mode Photo)

Seattle-based First Mode and Anglo American have closed a complicated $1.5 billion transaction that will remake First Mode as a clean-energy company for heavy industry — and shift its headquarters to London.

Anglo American, a global mining company, is now First Mode’s majority shareholder. The change of status was reflected in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which reported a $1.184 billion equity offering sold to Anglo American. That’s in addition to a $200 million cash injection that Anglo American is providing, First Mode spokeswoman Colleen Rubart told GeekWire in an email.

Rubart said the balance of the $1.5 billion comes in the form of contributions of intellectual property, contracts, facilities and other assets from both of the parties involved in the deal. The deal closed on Jan. 5, she said.

The business combination, which was announced last year, blends First Mode’s engineering operation with Anglo American’s nuGen effort to develop a zero-emission system for hauling ore. First Mode created the hydrogen-fueled hybrid powerplant for Anglo American’s nuGen mining truck, which made its debut in South Africa last year as the world’s largest zero-emission vehicle.

Going forward, First Mode will supply nuGen systems to Anglo American. The project will include the retrofit of about 400 ultra-class haul trucks with First Mode’s powerplant, plus the provision of infrastructure for hydrogen production, refueling and battery recharging.

Julian Soles, Anglo American’s head of technology development, has taken over as First Mode’s CEO at the company’s new HQ in London. Meanwhile, Chris Voorhees, who had been First Mode’s president and CEO, has transitioned to a role as chief product and technology officer in Seattle.

First Mode will keep production facilities in Seattle and operate a proving grounds for zero-emission trucks and associated infrastructure in Centralia, Wash. The added capital will also support staffing goals worldwide and allow First Mode to widen its corporate footprint in Perth, Australia.

The company started out in 2018 as an employee-owned engineering venture, formed by veterans of an asteroid mining venture called Planetary Resources. First Mode initially focused on providing expertise for space projects such as NASA’s Perseverance rover mission and the Psyche mission to a metal-rich asteroid. But in 2019, the company began building an increasingly close relationship with Anglo American.

The SEC filing reported that nearly $6.7 million of the gross proceeds of the transaction was received by First Mode’s executive officers and directors from the sale of stock, in connection with a concurrent tender offer “in which all active employees were entitled to participate.”

On its reworked website, First Mode says its work for the mining industry is just the start of a wider campaign to eliminate the use of diesel in heavy industry and speed the transition to clean energy.

“We’re progressing outward from the center, taking on the supply chain — heavy rail and mining — and then outward again, closer and closer to the people who depend on these resources every day,” First Mode says. “In the end, we plan to bring the same benefit to everyone in the world — a better world powered by better energy.”

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